Review: Georgia Southern

Well, that game was a debacle…and when I say it was a debacle, I mean just that.  IT. WAS. A. DEBACLE.

Nine turnovers.  Nine.  Let’s look at some facts about this game:

— Nine turnovers in a game, as you may have guessed, is a school record for The Citadel.

— Among the many amazing things about the game, the Bulldogs committed nine turnovers while running only 47 plays from scrimmage.

— The Citadel committed four turnovers in nine passing attempts (three interceptions, one fumble) and five turnovers on 38 rushing plays (all fumbles, obviously).

— Georgia Southern lost its starting quarterback on its second offensive play.  GSU completed no passes in the game and did not really dominate on the ground, either (4.0 yards per rush).  Yet it still won.  On the road.  By 20 points.

— GSU and The Citadel combined to complete seven passes, three to offensive players and four to defensive players.  It was the first time I had ever seen a game, either in person or on television, where the defensive units for the two teams caught more passes than the offensive units.

— After a game in which The Citadel completed no passes (against Appalachian State), it played a game in which its opponent completed no passes.  I guess that’s like a team getting no-hit in baseball one day, then throwing a no-hitter the next day, but losing both games.

— As Jeff Hartsell pointed out, it was the first time a Bulldog opponent had failed to complete a pass since 1973.  The opposition that day was William & Mary.  That game was also at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and The Citadel lost it, too (24-12). That Bulldog squad finished the year 3-8, by the way, in Bobby Ross’ first season at The Citadel.

— The Citadel fumbled away the ball on its first three offensive possessions.  In seven first-half possessions, the Bulldogs turned the ball over five times and punted twice (three-and-outs on both those drives).

— The second half wasn’t much better, consisting of four turnovers, one punt, and failing on a fourth-down play.

— Thanks to all the turnovers, Georgia Southern’s average starting field position was The Citadel’s 40-yard line.

— The Citadel committed more turnovers against GSU at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday (nine) than the basketball team committed against GSU in McAlister Field House last season (eight).

The Citadel is now in last place in all of FCS in the following categories:  fumbles lost (19, five more than the next-worst team), offensive passing yardage per game, and offensive passing efficiency.  The Bulldogs are in a three-way tie for having committed the most turnovers (27).

I went back and looked at the turnover numbers during Charlie Taaffe’s first season as head coach (1987).  The Bulldogs committed 31 turnovers that year in 11 games; 19 fumbles and 12 interceptions.  The most lost fumbles in one game that season? Four, against Army.  The season high for turnovers in one game that year was five, against Furman.

On the other hand, that team was much more productive on offense, including passing yardage (114 passing ypg. in 1987, 50 this season), total yards (363 to 274), and scoring offense (20.7 to 16.9).  The 1987 team also had a time of possession advantage over its opponents of just over eight minutes; the 2010 Bulldogs to date have a TOP edge of just over four minutes.

One other thing I’ll say that I can’t prove with statistics.  I believe (from memory) that the 1987 team’s lost fumbles were more spread out in terms of different types.  In other words, there were fumbles on bad/dropped pitches, fumbles where the ballcarrier was hit hard and fumbled, “mesh” fumbles, QB/center exchange issues, etc.

Most of the 2010 fumbles are QB/center exchange problems and “mesh” errors.  I have to say that in all honesty, the Bulldogs haven’t managed to get outside enough to have a lot of fumbles on pitch plays (although they have had a few).

Kevin Higgins, from his Monday presser:

“As we analyze each of the nine turnovers, something different happens in each of them, but the one common denominator in all of the fumbles was that a freshman player was involved. That’s not an excuse, but the young guys need to grow up and learn how to do the right thing with the football.”

Okay, so freshmen were “involved” in all nine turnovers.  That might be something to use as a crutch if this had been the first or second game of the season, but it wasn’t. It was the eighth game of the season.  Those guys are all now closer to being sophomores in terms of game experience than freshmen.

Nine turnovers in a spring game would be eye-raising.  Nine turnovers on October 23 is just embarrassing.

The defense played well.  The fact that the final score was “only” 20-0 is a credit to that unit.  I won’t say it was an A+ effort from the D; I would have liked to have seen more forced turnovers, particularly with the backup QB in the game for the Eagles, but it’s also true that GSU employed a fairly conservative game plan on offense for the most part (and why not).

The one time the Bulldog defense had a chance to swing momentum in the game, it did just that, after GSU coach Jeff Monken unaccountably started channeling Wade Phillips late in the first half.  Brandon McCladdie intercepted an ill-advised pass (ill-advised in both strategy and execution), and suddenly The Citadel had the ball in Eagle territory with under a minute to play in the half.

However, on the next play The Citadel gave Georgia Southern the ball right back, returning the Eagles’ interception with one of its own, and that was that.

One other thing from that game:  Greg Adams is apparently okay after a vicious, and illegal, hit by a GSU player who struck the defenseless Adams as he was preparing to return a punt.  I’m glad Adams is all right, but I also think the play warranted a suspension for the offender from the Southern Conference.  As it was, the player wasn’t even ejected from the game.

There are more things to discuss, related not just to this game but the season in general and the state of the football program in particular.  I want to think about them for a few more days…I’ll discuss those issues in my preview of the Wofford game. The discussion may make up the bulk of that preview, actually.

Below are a few pictures I took during the game.  There isn’t anything special about any of them.  I would note that I didn’t think it was such a good idea for the team to wear all-navy on a warm day, but then I wouldn’t like the navy uniforms on any kind of day.

NCAA basketball bracket projection, 3/14/10 — noon

Everyone else posts their bracket projections, so I decided to post this here.  It’s probably not mistake-proof, and there are likely multiple rematch scenarios (including a potential Wake Forest-Purdue game in the 2nd round, although assuming either of those teams has another win left in them could be dangerous).

Thanks to the bubble being so soft, the last few in/out squads are really up in the air this year.  My last five for each category…

— Last five in:  California, Utah State, UTEP, Florida, Illinois (the Illini being the last in)
— Last five out:  Virginia Tech, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Seton Hall, William & Mary (the Hokies being the first out)

I think both Minnesota and Mississippi State have to win today to get a bid.  That’s particularly true for the Bulldogs, in my view; Minnesota may just have to “look good” against Ohio State to pass Illinois.  Of course, the Illini lost in double overtime to the Buckeyes yesterday, so the proverbial “eye test” didn’t hurt them, either.

If Illinois was ahead of Minnesota prior to the Big 10 tournament, I’m not sure what exactly has led to Minnesota moving ahead of the Illini on the S-curve.  Illinois beat Wisconsin and lost that 2OT thriller to OSU.  Minnesota beat a hapless Penn State, Michigan State in OT, and then a decimated Purdue squad.  I’m not sure there is much to differentiate between those performances.

Speaking of Purdue, I have no idea how the committee will seed the Boilermakers. (Right now the committee may not know either.)  I seeded them as a 4, but would not be surprised at anything from a 2 to a 7.

One reason I kept Purdue on the 4 line is that several other teams with a shot at a protected seed failed to produce in their respective conference tournaments. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Texas A&M, and Maryland all lost in league quarterfinals. BYU went down in the Mountain West semis.  I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on Butler for a 4 seed, although I thought about it, and I suspect the committee will too.

I think Temple could be playing for a 3 seed today in the Atlantic 10 final, and may also be playing for a spot in the Providence sub-regional.  The Owls are competing with Pittsburgh and Villanova for one of two protected seed spots in that pod (Georgetown will get the other).  I have Pitt getting it right now.

After some debate, I kept Duke as the 1 seed in the West and West Virginia as the 2 in that region.  A loss by Duke today in the ACC final would result in those two teams flipping seeds.  Ohio State isn’t going to get enough of a bump by beating Minnesota to get to the 1 line, especially with the late start today for the Big 10 final.

Anyway, my current bracket projection (Midwest vs. West and South vs. East in the national semifinals):

Midwest

Oklahoma City

1-Kansas 16-Robert Morris

8-Marquette 9-Florida State

Spokane

5-Butler 12-Wake Forest

4-Purdue 13-Oakland

Jacksonville

3-Tennessee 14-Houston

6-Xavier 11-Missouri

Providence

7-UNLV 10-Cornell

2-Georgetown 15-Morgan State

West

Jacksonville

1-Duke 16-East Tennessee State

8-Notre Dame 9-Oklahoma State

Spokane

5-Michigan State 12-UTEP

4-Vanderbilt 13-Murray State

New Orleans

3-Baylor 14-Montana

6-Richmond 11-California

Buffalo

7-Old Dominion 10-San Diego State

2-West Virginia 15-Ohio

South

Buffalo

1-Syracuse 16-Lehigh

8-Texas 9-Siena

San Jose

5-Maryland 12-Illinois

4-New Mexico 13-Wofford

New Orleans

3-Temple 14-Vermont

6-Texas A&M 11-Utah State

Milwaukee

7-St. Mary’s 10-Louisville

2-Ohio State 15-UCSB

East

Milwaukee

1-Kentucky 16-PIG (Winthrop/Arkansas-Pine Bluff)

8-Northern Iowa 9-Clemson

San Jose

5-Wisconsin 12-Washington

4-Villanova 13-New Mexico State

Providence

3-Pittsburgh 14-Sam Houston State

6-Brigham Young 11-Florida

Oklahoma City

7-Gonzaga 10-Georgia Tech

2-Kansas State 15-North Texas

Longest droughts: schools that have never made the NCAA tournament

Updated: The 2016 edition

Now updated: the 2015 edition

Editor’s note:  this post is from 2010. For the 2014 update, click here.

For the 2013 update, click here.

For a 2012 update, click here. For the 2011 review, click here.

It’s almost time for the conference tournament season, and almost every year a school will celebrate its very first bid to the NCAA tournament.  Announcers will gush as the students rush the court following a dramatic victory in a league tourney final.  “They’re dancing!” is the cry.

Of course, most of the time the school in question has only been in Division I for a few years after enjoying success in Division II or the NAIA.  Occasionally the team is supplemented, if not dominated, by sketchy transfers or refugees from a local work-release center.  It doesn’t matter, though — it’s in the field of 65.  The school becomes part of the madness of March, and its supporters will cheer wildly (often televised from a local sports bar) when its name is called by James Brown on Selection Sunday.

However, every now and then a school that has spent decades in the Division I wilderness, searching in vain for the road to the tourney, finds its way out of the woods and into the promised land.  Two seasons ago it happened to American University, which had just missed in several Patriot League tourney title games before finally punching its ticket with a 52-46 victory over Colgate.  AU had been in Division I since 1967.

Another school that had a long wait end in 2008 was UT-Arlington.  The Mavericks had been members of Division I since 1969, but had never made the NCAAs until winning the Southland tournament that season (as the 7 seed in the league tourney).

These are the schools I (usually) root for come tourney time, to get that proverbial monkey off their back.  They are the 20 schools that have been in Division I the longest without making a single appearance in the NCAA tournament.  To keep what follows in perspective, just remember that George Mason University, which made the Final Four a few years ago, didn’t even exist until 1972.

“The Forgotten Five”

The NCAA’s modern classification into what we now call Division I occurred in 1948, although the hoops tourney started in 1939.  The five schools that have been in D-1 since ’48 were all technically eligible to be selected to the NCAAs since that first 1939 tourney.  Of course, it was only an 8-team tourney in those years.

Tangent:  maybe it was only an 8-team field in those days, but none other than Harvard got a bid in 1946 (losing both its tourney opener and a consolation game). Thus, Harvard has been to the NCAA tourney despite having never won the Ivy League (which has officially only been around since 1954).

The class of 1948:

  • Army:  I didn’t know this until last year, but the Black Knights actually could have gone to the NCAA tournament in the 1960s.  According to Bob Knight (in a TV interview) Army turned down an NCAA invite to instead play in the NIT, with a chance to compete at Madison Square Garden.

Another tangent:  The last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette (in 1970), a decision made by the late, great Al McGuire.  McGuire was annoyed that his team (ranked 8th nationally) was going to have to travel further than he thought was right for a top 10 squad, so he thumbed his nose at the NCAA brass and accepted an NIT bid (Marquette would win that tournament).  Schools are no longer allowed to decline NCAA bids to play in the NIT.

  • Northwestern:  The Wildcats are the only school in a “power conference” to never make the tournament.  The school hosted the first NCAA tourney in 1939.
  • St. Francis of New York:  This school is not to be confused with St. Francis of Pennsylvania, fellow member of the Northeast Conference, which actually made the tournament in 1991 (and had to win a play-in game to do so).  The Terriers, on the other hand, made three NIT appearances from 1956 to 1963, but have never been particularly close to an NCAA berth, at least from what I have been able to determine.  There isn’t a great deal of SFC hoops history readily available online.  The Terriers may be the most forgotten of the Forgotten Five.
  • William and Mary:  The Tribe did make the NIT in 1983.  Thomas Jefferson and Jon Stewart demand more success than that, though.
  • The Citadel:  I wrote about the school’s painful hoops history in November of 2008.  Since I wrote that manifesto, the team has won more games over a two-season stretch than at any other time in the Bulldogs’ history.  Karma?

The chances of any of these schools making it this year are not particularly good. Northwestern, William and Mary, and Army all got off to good starts, but have faded down the stretch (the Tribe’s 16-point loss to Iona in a Bracketbusters game probably eliminating W&M from at-large consideration).  To get a bid, it’s likely that only a league tournament title (and the automatic bid that goes with it) will do.

At this point, The Citadel might have the best shot, as it will be very difficult for Northwestern and/or William & Mary to win their respective conference tourneys (I think it’s fair to say that winning the Big 10/CAA tourneys is harder than winning the SoCon crown).  The Bulldogs, while currently playing good basketball, will probably have to win four SoCon tourney games in four days, however.  Considering the school has only won two consecutive SoCon tourney games once in its entire history, that may be too tall an order.

As for Army and St. Francis of New York, both are currently in 8th place in their respective conferences, which does not exactly scream “potential tourney run”, especially for Army, since there are only eight teams in the Patriot League.

Other schools who have had to hold their tickets for too long (records listed are as of Feb. 20):

  • Centenary (D-1 member since 1960):  Well, the Gentlemen only have two more years to make the NCAAs (including this one), since the school is moving to Division III after the 2011 season.  Robert Parish’s alma mater would have to win the Summit League tourney.  Currently Centenary is in next-to-last place in the conference and has lost 19 games.
  • New Hampshire (class of 1962):  A case could be made that the Wildcats have been the worst D-1 program since joining the division.  Entering the 2009-10 campaign, the Wildcats’ all-time school record (including the years before joining D-1) is 817-1327 (38%).  New Hampshire’s record in America East play entering this season was 142-299.  Yikes.  At any rate, it doesn’t look like UNH (currently seventh in the America East with an overall record of 10-15) will break through this year.
  • Maine (class of 1962):  Now here is a promising team to watch.  Like New Hampshire, Maine is a member of the America East conference.  Unlike UNH, though, Maine is having a solid season, third in the league, and with an overall record of 17-9.  Keep a close eye on the Black Bears, which may have their best shot at making the field since 1994, when Maine lost in the conference final to Drexel.
  • Denver:  The Pioneers were in D-1 in its initial incarnation in 1948, left the classification in 1980, and then returned to D-1 in 1999.  Denver (one of several hockey-first schools on this list) is a middling Sun Belt team this year (8-7 in league play, 15-11 overall).  It wouldn’t be a complete shock to see the Pioneers make a SB tourney run, though.
  • UT-Pan American (class of 1969):  The Broncs currently compete as members of the Great West conference, a league that doesn’t send an automatic qualifier to the NCAAs.  With a current record of 4-23, I’m guessing UTPA is not in line for an at-large bid.
  • Stetson (class of 1972):  The Hatters reside in the Atlantic Sun basement right now, tied with Florida Gulf Coast in league play (if you’ve never heard of Florida Gulf Coast before, don’t feel bad — DePaul never had either). Stetson has an overall record of 6-21. This isn’t going to be the year.
  • UC Irvine (class of 1978):  Like a lot of these schools, the Anteaters are at the bottom of their league standings, tied for last in the Big West with UC Riverside.  It’s not going to be their year either.
  • Grambling State (class of 1978):  You would think a school with a football tradition as grand as Grambling’s could parlay that into an occasionally good hoops team, but no.  This season is no different, as the Tigers are only 6-15 entering weekend play.  Of course, being in the SWAC means that a team with a 6-15 overall record can’t be completely ruled out as far as winning the league tourney is concerned.
  • Maryland-Eastern Shore:  The Hawks joined D-1 in 1974, but left after just two years, and then returned in 1982.  This season UMES is 6-6 in MEAC play but only 8-18 overall.  I don’t see the Hawks getting past Delaware State or South Carolina State in the MEAC tourney, much less Todd Bozeman’s Morgan State club.
  • Youngstown State:  The Penguins were D-1 in 1948, but then dropped down and didn’t return to the division until 1982.  Jim Tressel won multiple I-AA football titles while in Youngstown, but the hoops squad hasn’t been as successful, and this year is no different.  YSU is tied for last in the Horizon League with Illinois-Chicago (the Flames have been extinguished) and has an overall record of 8-18.
  • Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981):  B-C is actually tied with UMES in the MEAC standings right now, but at 14-12 may be a better team.  I wouldn’t give the Wildcats much more of a shot of winning the league tourney, though.  Maybe they need to bring Cy McClairen back.
  • Western Illinois (class of 1982):  The Leathernecks are currently third-from-last in the Summit League, one place above Centenary.  It’s hard to see WIU making much of a run in that conference tourney.
  • Chicago State (class of 1985):  Like Texas-Pan American, Chicago State is a member of the Great West.  Like UTPA, Chicago State has no chance to make the NCAAs in the foreseeable future.
  • Hartford (class of 1985):  The Hawks, whose most notable hoops alum is Vin Baker, missed a chance to make the NCAAs when they lost in the America East finals two seasons ago to UMBC.  At 8-19 this season, the odds are not in Hartford’s favor.
  • Buffalo:  the Bulls moved up to D-1 in 1974, left D-1 in 1977, then rejoined the classification in 1992.  Buffalo has come closer than any other school on this list to breaking through in recent years, losing in the MAC title game last season and in 2005 (the latter an excruciating 80-79 loss in overtime).  The Bulls are currently 15-9.  It wouldn’t be that surprising to see them in the conference championship game again.

So there you have it.  Those are the 20 schools that have waited the longest for an NCAA bid.  Will one of them break through this year?  Maine and Buffalo look like the best bets, but you wouldn’t really want to place a wager on any of them.

It would be great if one did, though.  I think back to that American victory in 2008, and the sight of Eagles head coach Jeff Jones crying in his sideline chair.  He knew the difficulty of what his team had accomplished.  I felt so good for him and for the long-suffering AU fans.

Incidentally, that difficulty of accomplishment is just another reason why expanding the tournament would be such a mistake.  It wouldn’t mean nearly as much if it were easier to gain entry into the field.  For myself, I’m not interested in The Citadel being part of a diluted field.  Like the fans and players of all the schools still waiting for their moment, I want to enjoy the real thing.

It would be nice to enjoy it sooner rather than later…

The NCAA wants to ruin its own basketball tournament

This is a little late…okay, more than a little.  It’s the holiday season, after all.  I was busy.

You may have heard that the NCAA is considering expanding the D-1 hoops tourney to 96 teams.  The particulars:

[The NCAA] is gauging the feasibility of moving the tournament from broadcast to cable…as it decides whether to exercise an escape clause in its 11-year, $6 billion deal with CBS, the NCAA’s longtime partner…

…the NCAA has the ability to opt out [of the deal] at the close of the 2010 Final Four. One source said this is just the beginning of a process that will conclude in summer  2010, at the earliest…

…the NCAA is not committed to making any changes. It also is talking with TV networks about whether they are interested in the tournament as is. The NCAA’s current deal with CBS is heavily backloaded. More than a third of the total value — $2.13 billion — is due to the NCAA in the final three years.

But the potential expansion of the NCAA tournament has support in collegiate circles, particularly from college basketball coaches. The idea talked about with TV networks would likely take it from its current field of 65 teams to 96 teams and add another week to the competition, with the top 32 teams receiving byes. The move has been characterized as folding the NIT into the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA clearly expects that the added week of games would significantly increase the tournament’s rights fee.

If you’re wondering why college basketball coaches favor expanding the tournament, it’s about job security, primarily for major college coaches.  Now, you might think that coaches who make six figures per annum (or more) might deserve being under a bit of pressure for that kind of dough (and all the other perks that go with the job).  The coaches, though, have a different idea.

Those poor major college coaches do have it rough.  There are 72 schools in the six BCS conferences.  Of those 72, only 36 made the NCAA tournament last season.  Just 50%.  Why, there wasn’t room for 16-14 Georgetown, or 18-14 Virginia Tech, or 17-15 Washington State!  Expanding the field to 96 would surely correct those injustices.

The writer of this article in The Wall Street Journal favors expansion.  As he puts it:

Expansion would, in no particular order, give more quality teams a chance to prove themselves and fix the shamefully low percentage of bids given to lesser-known “mid-major” teams. It might also create enough of a supply of games to allow a portion of the tournament to be shown on cable (at the moment, fans can’t see every game in its entirety because CBS—the rights holder—doesn’t broadcast every game nationally).

Most important of all, adding an extra round or stage to the tournament would mean an extra helping of what fans love most about the event: the early rounds, the unpredictable festival of games that go on all day and create wild excitement all across the country.

Give more quality teams a chance to prove themselves?  Isn’t that what the regular season is supposed to be about?

The problem with his argument about expansion aiding mid-major teams is in his next sentence.  The object of this exercise is for the NCAA to extract as much money as it can from ESPN and/or CBS (or maybe Fox; after all, Chris Rose needs work).  Let’s get serious here — ESPN isn’t going to give the NCAA a zillion dollars to televise first-round matchups between Illinois State-Niagara, or Duquesne-Tulsa.

His basic idea (which mirrors Coach K’s thoughts in the earlier link) is that a 96-team field would envelop and replace the NIT, which is now owned by the NCAA and doesn’t make nearly enough money to satisfy that organization.  As a practical matter, though, it would not and could not.

For one thing, three of the teams in last season’s NIT (Jacksonville, UT-Martin, and Weber State) were regular season champions of smaller conferences that would not be given at-large bids to an expanded tournament.  Several other schools invited to the NIT would also be questionable candidates for NCAA at-large bids, including several of the C-USA squads and Duquesne, which was only 9-7 in Atlantic 10 play.

If you expanded the field to 96, last season at least 51 of the 72 BCS schools would have made the field, and as a practical matter probably five or six more would have also (Vanderbilt for UT-Martin, Seton Hall for Jacksonville, etc.).  That would mean that over 75% of all major conference schools would have received bids last season.

Do we really need that many of those power league teams in the tournament?  Georgetown (to name just one example) lost 12 league games in the Big East (counting its first-round conference tourney loss to St. John’s).  I would suggest that the Hoyas conclusively proved that they had no business playing in the NCAAs.

Another thing is that the near-monopolization by the major conference outfits would only get worse, as once the tournament expands, you can expect a different approach to scheduling in the power leagues.  Schools would know that just approaching .500 in league play would be enough to get a bid as long as the overall record was a winning one.

It wouldn’t be a total wipeout of interesting non-conference games (ESPN has to televise something in November and December, after all).  It would, however, resemble what we’re starting to see in FBS football, which is a paucity of quality non-conference games.

Once that scheduling strategy came to the fore, you would start to see even more of the major conference schools grab at-large bids, to the point where the percentage of at-large bids in a 96-team field would be the same as it is now for the 65-team field.  Last season that number was 88%.

If that percentage held for a 96-team event, then 63 of the 72 BCS teams would get in the NCAAs.  Basically, just the one or two worst teams in each of the six BCS leagues would be left out.  Every BCS school would fully expect to make the tournament every season (well, maybe not DePaul).

Another thing that would happen is that the major conference tournaments would be completely devalued.  I suppose they might affect seeding, but that’s about it.  Even a game on opening day in the ACC or Big XII, for instance, between an 8 and 9 seed wouldn’t matter much.

I am surprised that people like Doug Elgin (MVC commissioner and now a proponent of expansion) are not concerned about how this thing might ultimately evolve.  If the idea is that maybe the mid-major leagues might get a few extra at-large bids, sure they might — but they will find that eventually their place in the tournament as a whole will be further marginalized.

Of course, the mid-majors will still be in better shape than the low-majors, who will be even less of a factor in an expanded field.  For example, 90% of the time the Southern Conference will only have one team in the tournament, the automatic qualifier.  The league has never had more than one team in the field in its history, and hasn’t had a school receive an at-large bid since 1950 (North Carolina State).

There have only been a tiny handful of SoCon schools over the years left out of the 64-team bracket that might have snagged an at-large bid in a 96-team tourney.  Davidson may have received one last season, and the Wildcats might have had a chance in 1996, too.  From a small-school perspective, does that justify the diluting of the tournament?  No.

Besides, the event is already open to nearly every school in Division I.  As pointed out in this article from last season, only 47 of the 344 schools competing in Division I did not have a chance to advance to the NCAAs from conference tournaments (and several of those were schools like Presbyterian, ineligible for the big tourney because they were transitioning to Division I).

Everyone has a shot — The Citadel, William & Mary, St. Francis of New York, Army, Northwestern — everybody.

I think an expansion to the tournament would ruin the event, which is almost perfect as it now stands.  The only true flaw in the current bracket is the dreadful play-in game; the tourney would be better served to have 64 teams instead of 65, and do so by eliminating one at-large berth.

If you expanded to 96 (and then 128, which I suspect would become inevitable), just making the tourney would lose a great deal of its value.  I would like very much someday to see people filling out a bracket with The Citadel on it, even if those people weren’t picking the Bulldogs (which would be a mistake — if The Citadel ever makes the field, I guarantee we’re taking out a high seed in the first round).

However, with 96 teams what would probably happen is that all the major bracket contests you see would start after the first weekend cull from 96 to 64.  It’s like having 32 play-in games instead of one.

I’m not arguing against expanding the field just because of bracket pools.  I’m arguing against it because it is (almost) perfect the way it is now, and expanding it would signicantly lessen its charm, particularly with regards to the schools that don’t see their name in lights all that often.

I have no doubt the NCAA will decide to expand…

Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. UT-Chattanooga

Note:  it can be difficult to figure out what to call the athletic teams of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  Recently the school began using a ‘C’ mark, for “Chattanooga”.  The university’s teams have variously been referred to over the years as “UT-Chattanooga”, “Tennessee-Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Chattanooga”.

The nickname/mascot history is even more tangled.  A “moccasin” used to be a snake, then a shoe, then a cartoon Cherokee Indian called ‘Chief Moccanooga’, and now a mockingbird train conductor (and “moccasin” has morphed into “moc”, for mockingbird).

There is an explanatory page on the school’s website.  The page includes a quotation from Jimmy Fallon.  As you may have guessed, the quote is not very funny.

In the post that follows, I will call the school either “UT-Chattanooga”, or “UTC”, because that’s what I’ve always called it, and I see no particular reason to change.

Around this time last year The Citadel played UT-Chattanooga in Charleston.  It was Homecoming for the Bulldogs, and everyone expected a big win, since the Mocs were 1-9 (and would eventually finish 1-11).  At that time I wrote about how UTC had collapsed as a program after consistently challenging for league honors in its first 10-15 years in the Southern Conference.

Well, The Citadel did win that day, but barely, letting a team playing out the string with a lame-duck coach hang around and nearly steal the victory.  The Bulldogs survived thanks to Andre Roberts’ last-minute punt return TD, but despite winning the game, it was almost as poor a showing as The Citadel had for this year’s Homecoming.

UT-Chattanooga replaced Rodney Allison with Russ Huesman, who basically has the ideal background for a UTC head coach.  Huesman played high school football at famed Moeller High School in Cincinnati for Gerry Faust, who was destined to become a much-maligned coach for Notre Dame (albeit one who never lost to Navy).  Huesman then played college football for the Mocs, with his first two years under Joe Morrison and his last two under Bill “Brother” Oliver.

Huesman was a longtime assistant at William & Mary, where he coached the secondary (Huesman was a DB himself at UTC) and was later the defensive coordinator.  Players he coached while with the Tribe include longtime NFL interception magnet Darren Sharper, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, and Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.  That’s not a bad list of guys to have as references.

He then moved to Memphis for several seasons, including a stretch as recruiting coordinator for the Tigers, before spending five seasons as the defensive coordinator for Richmond, the defending FCS champions.

That’s a nice resume for any prospective head coach at the FCS level; being an alum is an even bigger bonus.  Huesman seems to have given the program some much-needed enthusiasm.  Home attendance has increased significantly, with three of the ten biggest crowds in Finley Stadium history so far this season.  There was even a bonfire on Wednesday night.

Another thing Huesman did was bring in a transfer from Tennessee to play quarterback.  B.J. Coleman has had a solid season for the Mocs, nothing flashy stats-wise but generally getting the job done.

Coleman has thrown fourteen touchdowns against six interceptions, although he did throw three picks last week against Appalachian State.  Five of his six interceptions for the season, in fact, have come in the last three games.  Coleman is a sophomore who will have two more years of eligibility after this season.

The Vols transfer has spread the ball around, although his favorite target is definitely Blue Cooper, who has 68 receptions and could conceivably make the All-SoCon squad ahead of Andre Roberts (Elon’s Terrell Hudgins is a lock for the other first-team spot at wide receiver).

UTC suffered a blow when running back Bryan Fitzgerald was injured and lost for the season.  Freshman Chris Awuah is the leading rusher for the Mocs, but he is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.  UTC is last in the league in rushing offense.

UTC has respectable, if not eye-popping, defensive statistics across the board, generally ranking in the upper half of the SoCon in most categories for conference-only games.  The Mocs have struggled, however, in defending 3rd-down conversions; the Mocs D is 7th in the league (The Citadel is 8th in the league, ahead of only Furman).  Another sore spot for the defense is red zone conversion rate; UTC is last in the SoCon, and has allowed 17 touchdowns in 25 opponents’ possessions inside the 20.

The Mocs are tied for the lead in interceptions in conference play with eight; free safety Jordan Tippet has five of his own.

One defensive stat that is very impressive for UTC:  sacks.  The Mocs have 24 sacks on the season; their 16 sacks in league play in second-best in the conference.  The primary sack-master is right defensive end Josh Beard, who has 10.5 of them so far this year.  His partner in crime on the other side of the line, freshman DE Joshua Williams, has 6.

Despite the mediocre 3rd-down defense numbers and lack of a rushing game, UTC leads the league in time of possession.  The Mocs don’t hurt themselves with penalties (second in the SoCon).  UTC is next-to-last in net punting, but features an outstanding placekicker in Craig Camay, who is 13-16 converting field goals this year, with a long of 52.  Camay is also a weapon for onside kicks; the Mocs have recovered four of five onside kick attempts in league action.

A few other odds and ends:

— I was surprised to find out that The Citadel is UT-Chattanooga’s most common opponent.  Saturday’s game will be the 43rd meeting between the two schools.  The school in second place on the Mocs most-played list?  Tennessee, which has faced UTC on 41 occasions.  The Vols are 37-2-2 in those games.

— UTC is 5-4, but if it has dreams of a winning season, it probably needs to beat The Citadel.  Next week, the Mocs play Alabama.  Yikes.

Tangent:  what is with the SEC and these late-season matchups against FCS schools?  Last week, there were four such games:  Tennessee Tech-Georgia, Furman-Auburn, Northern Arizona-Mississippi, and Eastern Kentucky-Kentucky.

Last year, of course, The Citadel closed out its season by playing Florida.  Why aren’t these games being played in the first couple of weeks of the season? I hope all of them were Homecoming games.

— UTC’s game notes reference The Citadel’s football stadium (on the same page) as “Haggod Stadium” , “Johnson Hagood Stadium”, and “Sansom Field”.

— The Citadel has never won four straight games against UT-Chattanooga.  The Bulldogs currently enjoy a three-game winning streak versus the Mocs.

It’s hard to say what The Citadel’s chances on Saturday are, since it’s hard to determine which Bulldog team will show up — the one that played Appalachian State and Furman, or the one that played Elon, Western Carolina, and Wofford?

It will be interesting to see who starts at quarterback.  If I had to guess (and it’s only a guess), I would say that Miguel Starks, even if just “85%”, will get the nod.  Just the thought of a gimpy Bart Blanchard sitting in the pocket as the two sack-happy UTC defensive ends converge on him is cringe-inducing…

I certainly hope that the Bulldogs are more competitive than they were last week.  This is a big game for UTC, which has a chance for a winning season.  Given that the Mocs won a total of six games in the previous three years, that would be a major accomplishment.  UT-Chattanooga will be ready to play on Saturday.  The Bulldogs better be ready as well.

Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Princeton

Tune every heart and every voice,
Bid every care withdraw;
Let all with one accord rejoice,
In praise of Old Nassau.

In praise of Old Nassau we sing,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Our hearts will give while we shall live,
Three cheers for Old Nassau.


**Quick Facts**

– The Citadel’s game against Princeton will be broadcast by Sirius/XM Radio as the “Ivy League Game of the Week”.  The game can be heard on channel 130 (the contest starts at 3 pm ET).
– FIOS1 of New Jersey will televise the game.  The telecast does not appear to be available on any other outlet.
– This will be the Tigers’ first game of the 2009 season, which will be the 141st season of Princeton football.
– The Citadel defeated Princeton at Johnson Hagood Stadium last season, 37-24.  That was not only the first time the two schools had played, it was the first time Princeton had ever faced an opponent from the Southern Conference.

Princeton, of course, played in what is considered the first college football game, losing to Rutgers 6-4 in 1869.  That game was played in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  In a return match the following week, Princeton beat Rutgers 8-0 at Princeton (the first of 33 consecutive victories for the Tigers over the Scarlet Knights), thus claiming the first of what the school’s media guide trumpets as “28 national titles”.

Princeton’s football history has a lot of historical significance, but the “28 national titles” bit is pushing it, in my opinion.  None of those titles were recognized at the time the games were played.  They are all “retro titles”, awarded by various college football historians.  Also, the game was far from “national” in the 19th century, when Princeton had most of its championship teams.

There were only two games played in 1869, so Princeton is generally considered to have shared the mythical national title with Rutgers, since the two schools split the games.  A couple of  authorities give the title to Princeton alone, probably based on point differential, and possibly the fact that Rutgers as a national title winner in football just seems instinctively wrong.

There were also only two games in 1870.  Rutgers played in both, beating Columbia but losing to Princeton.  With a 1-0 record, Princeton claimed (many years later) its second consecutive national championship.  The media guide notes this particular championship was “unanimous”.

Another 1-0 record in 1872 was enough to garner a share of the national title.  In fact, from 1869 to 1877 the Tigers would play 11 games, winning 9 (with one tie).  That 9-1-1 record over a nine-year period was enough for Princeton to retroactively claim eight national titles, either undisputed or shared, only missing out in 1871, a year in which no college football games were played.  (I am mildly surprised Princeton does not claim at least a share of the 1871 title.)

Princeton continued to have success on the gridiron in the 1880s and 1890s, as well as the early 1900s, racking up many more national titles, and actually playing more than one or two games per season.  The Tigers’ status as a “national” power began to wane when the game started to become truly national.  Princeton continued to play like-minded institutions in its home region, rarely venturing outside the east.

In fact, in 141 years of football, which includes 1197 games, Princeton has only played 82 different opponents (and that’s counting opponents like Lawrenceville Prep, Columbia Law School, and Princeton Seminary).  In contrast, The Citadel (which historically has tended to play close to home itself) has played 93 different opponents, 11 more than Princeton, despite playing 211 fewer games than the Tigers.  Princeton has never played a current member of the Big XII or Pac-10, and has played only one SEC school (Vanderbilt).

Michigan comes to mind as an example of a school that became a football power near the end of the 19th century, and maintained a national presence.  The Wolverines have played 138 different opponents in 1207 games.

So if you hear a Princeton alum boast that his team won the national title in ’89, just keep in mind that he’s talking about 1889, and that all the games took place in the east, against opponents like Stevens Tech and Wesleyan, and that the national title was not based on an 1889 poll, but rather was retroactively awarded to the Tigers in 1932 by Parke Davis.  Davis was the pre-eminent college football researcher of his day.  He was also a Princeton alum who happened to play on the 1889 team.

(Davis also determined that in 1896, Lafayette and Princeton had shared the national title.  The two teams had played a scoreless tie early in the season; each had then won the remainder of its games.  The head coach of Lafayette in 1896?  Parke Davis.)

I don’t really intend to belittle Princeton’s football history; far from it.  I just think claiming a bunch of “national titles” which are something less than national detracts from the larger point, which is that the Tigers’ football past is both long (longer than any other school save Rutgers, obviously) and fascinating.  I could write about it all day, but nobody wants that.  I will mention a few things, though:

– Princeton has been known as the “Tigers” since at least 1880, a nickname that came to be when the team played a game wearing black shirts with orange stripes.
– The Tigers’ career rushing TD record is held by Knowlton “Snake” Ames, who scored 62 times in a career that ended at the close of the 1889 season.  I’m guessing that may be the longest-held individual school football record of consequence, for any school.
– Hobey Baker, who is the namesake of college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, played hockey and football at Princeton.  Baker was the captain of the 1913 gridiron squad.  He is the only person to be a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
– The first non-Princeton grad to coach the football team was Fritz Crisler, who coached the Tigers from 1932-1937.  Crisler was very successful at Princeton before leaving to coach Michigan (where the basketball arena is named for him).  He is generally credited with creating the two-platoon system (different players for offense and defense), and the distinctive Michigan helmets were his design.  Crisler had originally created the “winged helmet” look at Princeton.  When he left, Princeton dropped the look, only to bring it back in 1998.
– Princeton had a great run of success from 1950-52, going 26-1 over those three years.  The coach of the Tigers during this period, Charlie Caldwell, had pitched briefly for the New York Yankees.  Caldwell would eventually be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
– In 1951, Dick Kazmaier would win the Heisman Trophy, the third and last player from a current Ivy League school to win that award.  His performance that year against Cornell was so good it would be the subject of a Sports Illustrated piece ten years later.  Kazmaier (who also won the Maxwell Award that season and was named the AP’s Male Athlete of the Year) was drafted by the Chicago Bears, but turned down the NFL in favor of Harvard Business School.
Charlie Gogolak, the younger of the kicking Gogolaks (older brother Pete played for Cornell), kicked for Princeton in the mid-1960s.  The Gogolaks, born in Hungary, were the first “soccer style” placekickers to make an impact on the college and pro football scene.  Charlie Gogolak was the first placekicker ever selected in the first round of the NFL draft, by the Washington Redskins.
– Dean “Superman” Cain is both the single-season (12) and career (23) record holder for interceptions at Princeton.  Cain’s 12 interceptions in 1987 came in just 10 games, an FCS record on a per-game basis.
– For 82 years, Princeton played its home games at Palmer Stadium (which had a capacity of anywhere between 45,000 and 70,000, depending on era and what source you believe).  In 1998, the Tigers began playing at the new Princeton Stadium, which has a listed capacity of 30,000.

Princeton certainly doesn’t need more than 30,000 seats anymore.  Attendance used to be much higher in the days when Ivy League football was more prominent.  An estimated crowd of 49,000 watched the 1951 Cornell-Princeton contest referenced above, and similarly-sized or larger crowds would occasionally watch league games as recently as the 1970s.  However, with the Ivy League’s “demotion” to I-AA (now FCS) status in 1981, attendance (and the quality of players in some cases) began to decline.

Last season Princeton averaged 9,384 fans in five games at Princeton Stadium.  This wasn’t a one-season blip, either.  Average attendance in 2007 was 10,215; in 2006, 12,220; and in 2005, 9,370.  When the new stadium opened in 1998, the initial attendance figures rose to a season average of 20,475, but as the draw of the stadium wore off, attendance gradually declined to its current level.

This has happened despite inexpensive ticket prices, and when I say inexpensive, I mean it:  season tickets are just $25, with single-game tickets going for $7.  There can’t be many better deals than that in all of Division I football.

Declining interest in Princeton football, and Ivy League football in general, can be traced to the aforementioned transition to I-AA in 1981.  An article in The New York Times (from 2006) details the decision by Ivy administrators to go along with the move down the gridiron ladder, which still angers a number of former players, coaches, and alumni.

The supporters argue (I believe with some merit) that the Ivies could have continued to play non-conference games against the service academies and other upper-tier private schools (like Duke or Northwestern), maintaining I-A (now FBS) status.  After more than 25 years at the lower level, however, I think the window of opportunity for the Ivy League to move back up to I-A has passed.  As it is, Princeton’s last game against Rutgers came in 1980, which is perhaps symbolic of the Ivy League’s move down the football pyramid.

Another issue that rankles some is the Ivy League’s continued refusal to participate in the FCS playoffs.  From the linked article, former Harvard president Derek Bok was quoted as saying:

“Once you start worrying about a national football championship, then you begin to worry about getting the quality of athlete, and the numbers needed, to win a national championship…that worry leads to pressure to compromise academic standards to admit those athletes. That’s how even responsible institutions end up doing things they don’t like doing.”

Sorry, but I’m not buying that.  First, the Ivies compete in championships in other sports, including basketball, lacrosse, soccer, and baseball.  Are academic standards being compromised to admit athletes in those sports?  Bok’s comment also implies that other schools that do compete in the playoffs compromise their standards.  It’s essentially an insult to leagues (and their member institutions) that do participate.  He’s looking down his nose at schools like The Citadel, or Colgate, or William & Mary.

There can be a fine line between being elite and being elitist.

Of course, I can’t write a preview of the game without at least briefly discussing the events surrounding the appearance by the Princeton band at last year’s football contest in Charleston.  From an article in The Star-Ledger of New Jersey:

In a clash of cultures that threatened to spiral into bloodshed, the Princeton University band received a harsh welcome from offended cadets at the Charleston, S.C., military college when the two schools’ football teams squared off for the first time over the weekend.

The band’s president, Princeton senior Alex Barnard, said some 80 over-aggressive cadets roughed up two people, broke a clarinet, stole members’ hats and cursed the band when it inadvertently marched along the “Avenue of Remembrance,” a campus street that honors The Citadel’s war dead.

Later, as the band performed its unusual routine during the halftime show, the crowd of 13,000 booed relentlessly, chanting “Go home, Princeton” and shouting profanities and anti-homosexual slurs. Several videos of the display have made it onto YouTube.

After the show, a group of cadets again gathered around the band members, reducing some to tears before police intervened, Barnard said.

Of course, that was one viewpoint.  There were others, like this one.

Princeton’s band is what is known as a “scramble band”.  The point of having a scramble band, from what I can tell, is…well, I’m not sure there is a point.  Princeton’s version has been banned from appearing at West Point (at least two other Ivy League schools have also suffered the same fate; the folks running the U.S.M.A. do not suffer fools gladly), and was also not allowed to play at Lafayette for many years.

Probably the most well-known example of a scramble band inadvertently hurting its own school’s cause occurred in 1982, when Stanford’s band helped archrival California win the annual “Big Game” during what is arguably the most famous play in college football history.  Another such band, the University of Virginia’s “pep band”, is no longer allowed to play at its own school’s varsity events, a ban in place since 2003.

It’s possible that such bands tend to attract students who are naturally go-against-the-grain types.  For example, last year’s Princeton bandleader was a fellow named Alex Barnard.  When not leading the band, Barnard led protests against Ugg boots (one of several animal rights protests in which he participated) and enjoyed the benefits of dumpster-diving.  (Of course, protesting Ugg boots may not be out of the mainstream.)

That’s fine and all — life would be rather boring without some different viewpoints — but there is something to be said for being respectful of others, especially when in their “home”.  Princeton’s band chose not to show such respect last year when it made its brief tour of The Citadel’s campus, and the cadets responded in emphatic fashion.  Maybe they were a bit too emphatic (and some of the, uh, “rhetoric” was not needed), but speaking as someone who is probably more mild-mannered than the average alumnus of The Citadel, I don’t have much of a problem with the overall response.  I am sorry that a wind instrument lost its life in the fracas, however.

I don’t know if The Citadel is sending its band to Princeton for Saturday’s game.  I doubt it, both for financial reasons and because administrators at both schools are undoubtedly going to strive to avoid any repeat of last year’s confrontation.

Last year Princeton led The Citadel 17-7 at halftime.  The Tigers were efficient on offense and kept the Bulldog offense at bay for much of the half.  Princeton did not look like a team playing its first game of the season.

Momentum changed early in the third quarter when Mel Capers blocked a Princeton punt that was subsequently returned for a TD.  The Citadel would score 30 unanswered points to first take the lead, then put away the game, as Princeton was unable to sustain a drive until late in the fourth quarter.  Once Princeton lost control of the game, it was simply unable to get it back.

This year Princeton returns four starters along its offensive line (although there are several changes in position along that line).  Also returning for the Tigers is running back Jordan Culbreath, who impressed many observers during the game at Johnson Hagood.  Culbreath gained 74 yards rushing that day, much of them hard-earned.  He’s a good, tough runner (who can also catch passes out of the backfield).  Culbreath was a unanimous All-Ivy selection last season.

The Tigers need to find new starters at both receiver positions, tight end, and quarterback.  The returning QBs for Princeton have a combined two career pass completions between them.  Figuring out who will start at quarterback is likely to be the Tigers’ biggest challenge.

On defense, Princeton must replace several starters along the line.  The Tigers do have an interesting candidate to play nosetackle in 6’5″, 285 lb. Matt Boyer.  Princeton (which runs a base 3-4) has solid returning starters at inside linebacker, and experience on the outside (although two of the potential regulars there have significant injury histories).

The Tigers have three regulars back in the secondary, including three-year starting cornerback Carl Kelly, who will probably draw the assignment of covering Andre Roberts (who only caught four passes in last year’s game, although he did have a 54-yard punt return).  Kelly will get plenty of help defending Roberts.  The other corner spot appears to be open, with several candidates vying for the starting role.

Princeton has an experienced placekicker but needs to find a new punter.  The Tigers’ return game last season was rather mediocre and needs to improve.

While Princeton has not played a game yet, it did scrimmage Rowan University (a Division III school with a solid football program) in an effort to be prepared for “live” game action.

It’s hard to draw many conclusions from The Citadel’s game against North Carolina.  I am going to assume (hope?) that the offensive line won’t be overmatched quite like that again this season.  In fact, it’s possible the o-line will be a team strength.

The Bulldogs need Bart Blanchard’s ankle to be fully healed.  It appears that Terrell Dallas and Van Dyke Jones may be ready to play against Princeton, which is good, although I worry a little about Dallas coming back relatively quickly from an ACL injury.

I thought the defense acquitted itself well against UNC.  Forcing turnovers should continue to be a major priority for that unit.  It will be interesting to see how the defensive front fares against Princeton’s experienced offensive line.  Mel Capers, whose play in the game against the Tigers last season was so critical to changing the game’s momentum, may not play football again, which is a shame (although a final decision has apparently not been made yet).

The Citadel’s special teams were mostly good against the Tar Heels.  Sam Keeler’s performance, in particular, was encouraging.  The kicking game will need to be just as solid against Princeton.

I like the idea of this series, which was conceived by current Princeton AD Gary Walters and Les Robinson, former director of athletics at The Citadel.  I think it would be neat if The Citadel played other schools from the Ivy League or Patriot League in home-and-home series from time to time.  However, my guess is that this will be the last such home-and-home for a while, particularly with an additional SoCon game (due to Samford joining the SoCon) and the resumption of the series with VMI in 2010.

I should note that Princeton has scheduled some other schools out of its normal “comfort zone” in recent years.  Besides The Citadel, the Tigers have played two games against the University of San Diego, and have also faced Hampton.

I look forward to seeing Old Nassau.  I just hope that the hospitality includes a Bulldog victory.  I’m not counting on it, though.